A Reassured F.T.C. Ends Google Street View Inquiry

Wed, Oct 27, 2010 at 11:37 am

    MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — The Federal Trade Commission announced Wednesday that it had ended its investigation of Google’s collection of Internet users’ personal communications by the company’s Street View cars.

    In a letter, David C. Vladeck, the director of the bureau of consumer protection, said that the F.T.C. was satisfied with the steps Google had taken to prevent a recurrence of the problem, including naming a director of privacy and beefing up privacy training for employees. The company assured the commission that it had not used the data and promised to delete it as soon as possible.

    Last Friday, Google said that its cars taking pictures of buildings along city streets, which had also checked for Wi-Fi hotspots, had collected even more information about Internet users than it had first thought last May. That information included passwords, e-mail messages and Web addresses carried on unencrypted Wi-Fi networks, Google said. Google stopped driving Street View cars in May and restarted in the summer, but without the collecting Wi-Fi data.

    Last week, Google also announced that it had appointed Alma Whitten as director of privacy for engineering and product management. The company will require engineers and other employees to complete training on the appropriate collection, use and handling of data and require engineering project leaders to maintain privacy documents for the products they work on.

    “We are mortified by what happened, but confident that these changes to our processes and structure will significantly improve our internal privacy and security practices for the benefit of all our users,” Alan Eustace, senior vice president of engineering and research, wrote in a company blog post.

    Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group, called the F.T.C.’s decision “premature and wrong.”

    “Once again, Google, with its myriad of government connections, gets a free pass,” John M. Simpson, director of the group’s Inside Google Project, said in a statement.

    The breach was first made public in May, when German data protection authorities discovered that Google’s Street View cars, which take pictures for Google Maps, were collecting Internet users’ information, known as payload data, over unsecured wireless networks.

    Google had been collecting the information in about 30 countries, and faces several investigations, including in Germany, France and Italy. In the United States, Google faces multiple class-action lawsuits over the privacy invasion. In a statement, Google said that it welcomed the news from the F.T.C. and reiterated that “we did not want and have never used the payload data in any of our products or services.”

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